It feels like home in the North
Norway is beautiful for cycling, but even more beautiful are the numerous encounters we experience along the way. We are invited by strangers but all these people do not feel strange to us. Before we entered Norway we had heard Norwegians can be distant, but we experience the complete opposite. A cold country, with lots of warm people, after Belgium we never felt so much at home as in the North. In this blog a few highlights of warm encounters and nice moments.
May 14, 2022 - After a wonderful time in Sweden, we cross the border into Norway, the country in Scandinavia that most captured our imagination at the beginning of our world trip. The border crossing, unlike the rest of our journey through this beautiful part of Europe, feels rather gray.
"Norway is expensive", seemed to be the most common message others shared with us. A bit nervous we entered the first supermarket to do our grocery shopping, curious about the sky-high prices. Fortunately, it is not too bad if you consciously choose the cheaper products. Our shopping cart is filled with a healthy lunch and a tasty snack and luckily the bill doesn't leave us speechless. A first Hygge moment in Norway!
From day 1 it soon becomes clear, the climbs in Norway are STEEP! Whereas the West Coast in Denmark is practically flat and Sweden offers short and fairly powerful climbs, in Norway you have to deal with somewhat longer and steeper climbs. When we cycle through a beautiful nature reserve our legs are seriously tested. We sweat and puff, but find it great to explore the country this way.
A beautiful ski hut is waiting for us at the top of the climb and when we see it in the distance Stefanie starts daydreaming about an ice cream. Nothing is further from the truth, the ski lodge and associated cafe are unfortunately closed. Even though the law states you can wild camp in Norway, we can't pitch our tent on the flat piece of grass because there is a ribbon around it. "We will find another nice spot", we say to each other. When we fly down we encounter countless beautiful places, but never a flat piece of grass. It turns out to be a common thread throughout our cycling trip in Norway. Wild camping here is no sinecure, it's almost never flat!
Just when we notice a flat spot, a black snake crosses our path. Stefanie's idea to pitch the tent here disappears in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, because later it turns out to be the only poisonous snake in Norway. It was meant to be, we think, not much later, when we talk to the first people in a small village we soon get to know the Norwegian hospitality. The request for some water and a place for our tent results in the greatest hospitality you can imagine.
Ingvar and Tove open up their home to us and we are allowed to sleep in the bedroom of their daughter who now lives in Oslo. We get to know two lovely people who receive us with open arms and both sides show genuine interest in who we are and what we do. In the evening, in front of the television, we all support Norway and Belgium in the Eurovision Song Contest, eat Norwegian chocolate and drink good beers. The feeling of being incredibly tired but still wanting to stay awake because it's so cozy, the feeling as if we were spending an evening at home with our family and friends.
When we open our bedroom door the next morning the smell of freshly baked waffles is already waiting for us. For the first time we eat the typical Norwegian dish with brown cheese and jam. A nice tea and coffee to put our batteries in overdrive, fully charged after meeting these incredible lovely people.
In search of a Basecamp
Other special people who are awaiting us in Hamar are our friends, Olivier and Zoë from WeLeaf. They are in Norway to continue the search for their Basecamp and we are lucky to spend almost a full week together. A moment we have been looking forward to incredibly hard! They welcome us with open arms in a little park in Hamar and introduce us to their host family where we also get to spend a few days. Negar, Erik and their two beautiful children Eva and Tale don't mind two more cyclists spending some time in their home. Generosity 2.0 you might call it.
Two days of full house at Erik and Negar's place and we could not have chosen a better moment. On Mayth 17, Norway celebrates its national holiday, which we fully immerse ourselves in. We follow in the footsteps of the Norwegian family and are suddenly joining the parade in the center, later we play soccer at a local school and in the evening we enjoy the BBQ that their friends organize. Everyone welcomes us and we feel privileged to be able to celebrate this holiday, which is all about family and friends.
After the special days in Hamar we join Olivier and Zoë in their search for a house. A nice bike ride towards Sjusjøen with our friends is exactly what we need. There are few people we see so little off, yet have such a special bond with. We observe how they approach the continuation of their dream, full of healthy doubts and an extra portion of courage and already they talk a fair bit of Norwegian. Simply following the signs "Til Salgs" (for sale) and having a look on the spot or trying to get hold of a telephone number. It appears to be an effective way to go about things because everyone is impressed by their plan and how they want to continue their dream. Every meeting can be the link to a bright future, we find it admirable to see.
We wonder if we could ever do it, move abroad. It feels so huge and have no idea if it would be something to do for us. During the trip, we often get asked when we will return home. But what or where is our home? We don't have a physical place anymore, although Belgium will always be our home. "Home is whenever I'm with you" is a very meaningful quote for us. As long as we are together, it doesn't really matter to us for now.
Nå må du spise
In Hurdal we use Warmshowers for the first time in Norway and so we end up with Astrid and Claudio, a Norwegian-Swiss couple. When we enter the driveway, there is a "Welcome" sign on the doorstep, accompanied by the Norwegian and Swiss flags. It is easy to feel at home quickly here, especially when the couple shows us our beautiful room for the next few days. Astrid is still busy making bread. Not just one piece, but about forty breads for the entire neighborhood, made with her own sourdough and baked in the pizza oven in their beautiful garden. A message is sent around and the next day one after the other acquaintance flocks to the corner to buy Astrid's bread, super nice to see. Privileged as we are we may enjoy the next mornings of freshly baked bread, njammie!
On day 2 Astrid shares her recipe for Norwegian waffles with Stefanie and soon Stefanie is baking in their authentic kitchen. Enough waffles for the next few days and how delicious they are! The recipe is written down and also Astrid's recipe for homemade crackers is added. By doing this, we can hopefully one day present all the delicious recipes that we have learned worldwide to our family and friends in Belgium. We ended up staying for three nights and bathed in hospitality, as well as accompanying them on an evening hike with their hiking club. Our bellies are filled and several times we hear "Nå må du Spise" - literally translated, now you must eat. "Takk for maten" - we then shout loudly!
Do we ever get used to such hospitality?
Just when we think we've used up all the hospitality in the world, a unique encounter awaits us. We can already hear you thinking, another one? Indeed, another one! On our way from Oslo to Kristiansand we pass the authentic little town of 'Risør' in the south of Norway. We miss the last ferry to reach our destination and Oskar sends a message that he is coming to pick us up with his boat. We are completely soaked when we arrive at the fjord when Oskar comes around the corner in his speedboat. A man with a smile up to his ears and full of pride and knowledge about his surroundings says hello with a strong handshake. Once in the boat he quickly asks us: "Do you want to have coffee on one of the islands?" Our minds tell us to first get our bicycles, which with all due difficulty fit into the boat, safely to shore, but our hearts say to accept this invitation as well. Even the cold can't stop this invitation.
We sail through the beautiful fjords and get a lesson in history about the white town. When suddenly the engine fails and most of the people would probably return back home, Oskar decides to simply slow down. He takes us to one of his favorite spots on the rocks, at the very end of the fjord just before the infinite view of the wild sea. Getting ashore is no easy task with the bikes on the boat, as proven when Stefanie dangles helplessly between boat and shore. She "plumbed" into the water with one foot and tries to hold on with the other on the boat that is drifting further and further from shore. In vain and with the opposite effect, Niels tries to bring the boat closer, fortunately Oskar manages to drag Stefanie safely onto the rocks after a long minute. For a moment he looks at us with a questioning face and we even think we picked up some doubts, but after a frightened moment we can't stop laughing. It is an image that Niels will never forget and Oskar recovers very quickly and feels that we see it as an unexpected and exciting adventure.
To cut a long story short, when the lager in Stefanie's front wheel turns out to be broken, Oskar and his wife Anne invite us to stay a second night. We visit a bike shop they know well and after a few hours Stefanie's bike is ready to go on a new adventure. We help Oskar with some painting around the house and enjoy nice talks with these lovely people. A strange feeling takes over when we realise we will probably miss them! We have a nice dinner that Anne prepared in the evening. Their daughter Åshild and her husband Jürgen also join us, along with their 7-month-old daughter Hilda. It was a very pleasant evening and we went to bed feeling fortunate, but not before they give us the key to the house. Åshild and Jürgen live in Arendal, about 70 km from Risør and on our cycling route, and they invite us to spend the night in their house. They won't be there themselves but they explain exactly where everything is and so we enjoy another bed in Norway. We find it incredible that people we have known for only a few hours, entrust us with their home.
Our journey through Norway teaches us that "a home" is just a concept. We may not have a home, but we feel at home everywhere and are incredibly grateful for everything. Home is a feeling we have when we are with each other and during encounters along the way. It is the people who make a world trip by bicycle a unique experience. The amazing views along the way are obviously a nice extra, but oddly not the most memorable moments. What does a home mean to you? And how do you deal with it as a traveler? We're curious so be sure to let us know!